The flowers were planted, all the bushes trimmed. The man stepped back for a moment as he would invariably do. He spent time thinking about each of the six.

As always, the man was overwhelmed. Thoughts, history, sadness, joys, tears, laughter. They all flicked through his mind, in rapid fire sequence like the riffling of a stiff new card deck by a Vegas dealer. These were all very strong people. He could never measure up to them, the man knew. He could be weak. And weakness was a sin. Particularly in their presence. Even here. They would forgive him, of course. They always had. But it was a pardon he never could accept.

He focused for a minute on the grand old man. Some are born patrician. The grand old man was certainly not cut from that cloth. A working man his whole life. Shaped by the trenches. The gas. And then the massive industrial accident that shocked a region. The grand old man knew he had cheated death more times than could be counted. It was precisely because of this that he cared only for and took pure pleasure in simple matters … the warmth of family, the long deep draw of a carefully crafted roll-your-own, an icy beer after a drudgery filled day on the factory floor, a weekend card game with his mates. He wasn’t a religious man to be sure; he had seen more horror in his early years than most have ever witnessed. The grand old man may have been on speaking terms with his Maker, but they weren’t the best of friends. He would begrudgingly forgive perhaps, but he would never forget the horror.

Wiry, often profane, though a friend to all, he would give no quarter. Especially when crossed. If you crossed him, you had better hope Hell was shortly in your future, for surely it was less painful than angering this man.

The child usually perched near the grand old man. The bond was there from the very beginning.

“Come here Sunshine” the grand old man softly called to the child. The tot climbed down from his mother’s knees and quickly covered the few paces to the old man’s easy chair. As the 2-year old watched, wide-eyed, the grand old man poured from his tea cup into his saucer.

“Oh, Dad, don’t give him your tea! He’s too young, he’s still a baby,” the Mother scolded.

“He’s fine,” the grand old man guffawed. “This one can handle anything you throw at him. He’s going to be as tough as nails. He’s one of us.  I know. You’ll see.”

But the Mother never did get to see. It wasn’t her fate.

Of all the tragedies he had witnessed, this was the one the grand old man could never forgive his Maker. There would be a reckoning for this. When the time came and he met his Maker, he hoped he still remembered how to use the bayonet.

“Listen, Sonny. You blow across the saucer like this, so it’s not too hot”.  The old man gently blew across the liquid laden saucer. “Understand?”

With both hands the child firmly grasped the filled saucer. He nodded and then he, too, in perfect imitation slowly breathed out across the rippling tea. Eagerly the child slurped it down, with gratitude and pride in the gift, being especially careful to spill nary a precious drop.

The grand old man smiled and chuckled at his grandson in approval.

Staring at the names and the dates chiseled into the granite, the man smiled, too. At that first memory, no less permanently etched than the letters and numerals in the stone. Forever a part of him.



An Offer Not Sampled … Part III Conclusion


Here is the 3rd and concluding installment of my story about my neighbor Becky. In case you need a refresher, here is part 1  And here is part 2

You have to understand. Becky is attractive. Becky is sexy. Becky is fun loving. But Becky is oh, so conservative. What she was doing was so unlike her! And don’t forget, this was a neighborhood back yard party.

I think I began to sweat. Not for me, of course, but for Becky. If her husband found out how she was behaving, what might he think? What would his attitude going forward be towards me?

I looked around. To my surprise, no one seemed to be watching. The Baptists, including the nosie-parker husband, seemed to have already left. Everyone else was either dancing, had their face in their drink, or were too far away in the dim light to really see the action going on in front of my table. And my neighbor seated beside me, Jimmy, wasn’t going to be spilling any beans. I could count on that. Whew! I’d lucked out so far.

Just then the music changed, and a romantic slow song came on. I can’t remember the tune, but what I certainly do remember is Becky coming around the table, and almost forcibly getting me up to dance with her. We had hands on each others’ hips, which allowed a one foot separation between our bodies. That was good. I felt strange, in that I was quite comfortable with Becky, while at the same time, feeling very uncomfortable. On reflection, I chalked it up to being fine with her, but sensitive to the possible neighborhood gossip. Our conversation went something like this:

Becky – “At last I have you up dancing. I thought it would never happen.”

Marty – “Well you know I would love to dance with you. I just hate the gossip that might come out of it.”

Becky – “Oh don’t be silly, Marty. Nothing’s happening. We’re all good friends here.”

Marty – “Uh-huh”

Meanwhile I am looking her up and down. I mentioned the dress, right? And I know my growing erection has been noticed. We’re just too near each other for it not to have been. I’m not embarrassed, of course, that I have a hard-on and I know Becky knows. We’re both adults. I feel confident she is pleased.

Becky- “We’re good friends aren’t we Marty?”

I swallowed hard. “Yes, of course we are, Becky.”

Becky- “Well, maybe we should get friendlier.”

While I really liked where I thought this was going, I actually didn’t like where I thought this was going.

“Umm, maybe you’ve had a few too many gin and tonics, Becky.”

“Maybe I have” her eyes twinkled back.

And with that, we both decided it was probably wise to call it a night.

I thought of that evening 4 years ago as I chatted with Becky on her lawn. How she and her husband split, sold their lovely house and divorced. And now, Becky introduced me to her new fiance who had just driven up.

As he and I checked each other out, my analytical mind began to calculate. Was I wise to have not pursued things? Their marriage was already on the ropes undoubtedly, so any involvement I would have had with Becky wouldn’t have changed the outcome. And she would have been lovely to have. But I would not have known that. When Becky and her husband broke up, I would have had in the back of my mind some guilt, feeling that I must have had a role. So things were probably better as they were.

But then I also thought of the future. A bit longer term. I’m thinking Becky and I are going to stay in touch. Stay good friends. Because the future can last a very long time. And I have a feeling the fiance might not last.